Can we habitually mix righteousness with unrighteousness and please God?
"Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 7:19).
"In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:10).
The Scriptures reveal that God's children occasionally sin after baptism (1 John 1:8). But, if they wish to continue in His favor, they must not only confess to Him but also ask Him to "cleanse [them] from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). They cannot please God if they deliberately practice sinning.
However, some habits deeply ingrained from early childhood may not be that easily overcome. Victims of continual abuse during adolescence are a case in point. The effects of such sins tend to foster serious weaknesses in victims of abuse. It may take a long period of diligent striving to finally overcome. Paul put our task this way: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature" (Colossians 3:5, NIV). We can accomplish this only through the power of God's Spirit.
James puts God's requirements in perspective: "Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh. Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:11-16, NASB).
How does Christ distinguish His true servants from those who are still of this world?
"You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit" (Matthew 7:16-17; compare Philippians 1:9-11).
What fruit should God's Spirit produce in us?
"... The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV).
Each aspect of the "fruit" listed here is simply a reflection of God's character reproduced in us by His Spirit.
How important is love, as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, to our spiritual growth?
"By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
"... The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit ..." (Romans 5:5).
God is love (1 John 4:8). Love is the foundation of His character. Paul describes ways that God's love in us should transform our character: "Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails ..." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NASB). Every other aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is merely a specific expression of godly love.
Is loving those who love us sufficient to please God?
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven ..." (Matthew 5:43-45).
By explaining that we should love not only our friends and family but even those who do not love us, Jesus again stresses our need for the extra help of God's Spirit. We naturally tend to dislike anyone who dislikes us. But that approach simply returns evil for evil. Instead, we should "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).
The Scriptures teach that love is a debt we will always owe: "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Romans 13:8-9, NIV). Love is the basis of all of God's commandments (Matthew 22:35-40). (For a detailed explanation of how God's law is a law of love request our free booklet The Ten Commandments.)
What are some important ways we should express the spiritual fruit of joy?
"But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; let those also who love Your name be joyful in You. For You, O LORD, will bless the righteous; with favor You will surround him as with a shield" (Psalm 5:11-12).
"For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!" (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, NRSV).
"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy" (Philippians 1:3-4).
We can especially rejoice knowing that God is always there to help us individually—just as He will help our spiritual brethren scattered throughout the world.
Peter encourages us to rejoice that we can honor God by setting a good example even when we are mistreated through our service to Him. "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV).
Is seeking peace with others a significant fruit of God's Spirit?
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).
"As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!'" (Romans 10:15).
"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17-18, NASB).
Why is patience a part of the fruit of the Spirit?
"But God made a promise to us, and we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth where goodness lives. Dear friends, since you are waiting for this to happen, do your best to be without sin and without fault ... Remember that we are saved because our Lord is patient" (2 Peter 3:13-15, NCV).
God has not revealed when the end of this age and Jesus' return will occur (Acts 1:6-7). But His Word counsels us: "Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm ..." (James 5:7-8, NIV).
God has an excellent reason for wanting us to have patience. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, NIV). In His master plan of salvation God intends to provide an opportunity for everyone who has ever lived to understand His Word and repent.
Therefore He wants us to wait patiently for Him to act on His own timetable. "May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light" (Colossians 1:11-12, NRSV).
In regard to our relationships with one another we are also admonished: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2-3, NIV).
James expresses the same thought: "My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience" (James 1:2-3, NCV).
Should kindness be part of our character?
"Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another" (Romans 12:10).
"... You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness ..." (Nehemiah 9:17; compare Joel 2:13).
"And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).
Is goodness another godly trait we should emulate?
"... The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD" (Psalm 33:5).
"Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalm 107:8).
"Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You ..." (Psalm 31:19).
"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness ..." (2 Peter 1:5, NIV).
Why are faith and faithfulness essential fruits of God's Spirit?
"He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?" (Luke 16:10-12).
"And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities'" (Luke 19:17).
As Jesus establishes His Kingdom after His return, the Scriptures reveal that "those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful" (Revelation 17:14). To participate with Christ in His future Kingdom we must ask God to strengthen us through the power of His Spirit that we may faithfully carry out our obligation to be righteous toward both God and our fellowman.
Another important aspect of faithfulness is simply having faith in God—implicitly trusting Him. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). Also: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). (To better understand the meaning of faith as discussed in the Bible, be sure to request your free copy of the booklet You Can Have Living Faith.)
Is gentleness part of the fruit of the Spirit?
"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart ..." (Matthew 11:29).
"And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all ..." (2 Timothy 2:24).
Jesus and Paul both emphasized that we will have a right spirit toward others only if we approach them in a gentle, considerate spirit. Paul reminded the Thessalonians: "But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us" (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). God does not want us to treat our fellow human beings harshly. That is not His character. God's nature is to be merciful, kind and gentle.
Peter encourages women not to emphasize their clothing, their outward appearance, but to develop "the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (1 Peter 3:4). James tells us that "the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits" (James 3:17). We must learn to express a genuine love for others in a kind and gentle manner.
How crucial is self-control as a fruit of God's Spirit?
"And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, 'Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you'" (Acts 24:24-25).
Paul mentions self-control, the final in the list of attributes he calls the "fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22-23, as one of the three most significant features of his "faith in Christ" as he explained it to the Roman governor of Judea. He ranks it in importance with righteousness and the judgment to come. Why is this character trait so important?
One reason we need the Holy Spirit is to help us control our human nature. In addition to transforming our thinking and perspective, God's Spirit empowers us to exercise self-control, to live by the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.
Why do we need more than knowledge alone to subdue and control our human nature?
"For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4).
"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:14-17).
Paul tells us that having an understanding of what is sin, which must be defined by God's law, is not enough to overpower and control the pulls and deceit of our human nature. Simply knowing God's law does not solve our problem. God's law gives us "the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). Such knowledge is essential to our spiritual growth. And Paul confirms—contrary to the view commonly attributed to him—that we must practice "the righteous requirement of the law" (Romans 8:4).
But that is not his main point in these verses. Rather, because of the weakness of our flesh, Paul stresses that we cannot achieve true righteousness by ourselves, by our own efforts. Only by changing our sinful nature to God's divine nature can we overcome sin. We need our Redeemer—Jesus, the Messiah and our Savior—living in us (Galatians 2:20) to deliver us from ourselves and make us righteous. Only in this way can we produce the fruit of the Spirit in abundance.
The fruit of the Spirit reflects the goodness, faithfulness and self-restraint inherent in God's nature. If His Spirit is in us, these traits that are the Spirit's fruit should also become fundamental characteristics of our nature—that is, as long as we remain "in Christ" and continue serving God from the heart.
How does Peter summarize these spiritual essentials?
"... Do your best to add these things to your lives: to your faith, add goodness; and to your goodness, add knowledge; and to your knowledge, add self-control; and to your self-control, add patience; and to your patience, add service for God; and to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love. If all these things are in you and are growing, they will help you to be useful and productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But anyone who does not have these things cannot see clearly. He is blind and has forgotten that he was made clean from his past sins. My brothers and sisters, try hard to be certain that you really are called and chosen by God. If you do all these things, you will never fall. And you will be given a very great welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:5-11, NCV).
Peter here stresses how important our spiritual growth is to our maintaining an obedient relationship with Christ now and to our inheriting eternal life in the future.